Growing Grapes & Protecting Ripening Fruit in an Urban Garden
It’s the beginning of July and the garden is rewarding me for months, arguably years, of planning and hard work. What I’m talking about is all the fruits we planted in the last few years are finally producing and giving us a taste of how our “vision” for our backyard homestead will be in the coming years.
Boysenberries, peaches, apricots, strawberries, apples, and lemons are just some of the fruits that are now available this season—-and the animals know it. Before I started gardening, I never saw (or maybe noticed) any kinds of covers in gardens. Most pictures I saw showed everything green and luscious, no hint of bags or unattractive mesh or netting covering fruit. Protecting fruit from pests was actually not something I ever thought about. The reality is much messier and much more cutthroat than I imagined!
I can’t claim to be an expert on this topic, but I am happy to share what has worked for us in regards to protecting and being able to eat the fruit we grow!
One of our garden goals is to always have some fruit to harvest in our urban garden. Once you’ve had homegrown fruit, it’s hard to truly enjoy anything from the grocery store. Whether you like your fruit tart with a bite, fully ripened and dripping in juice, or somewhere in between, the benefit of growing your own is that ability to pick your produce at the stage that you prefer!
Grape bunches are forming in SoCal!
Have you heard about my clearance grape vine? Strolling past a clearance rack about two years ago, this humble little stick was for sale. It was labeled as a ‘golden muscat’ grape and priced at $3—-yes please! According to the label, ‘golden muscat’ grapes are golden-green grapes that are seeded and used as wine and table grapes. While a seeded grape wasn’t my ideal pick, I still couldn’t resist $3, and I’ve processed and used seeded grapes before.
If you are interested in buying clearance grapes/bare root trees, just keep in mind patience, patience, patience! Many times clearance sales happen at the end of the “ideal planting window” so it’s possible the plant will not do much the first year you plant it. Our grape did nothing until this year. We left it alone the first year, aside from our usual fruit tree feeding (Sam loves this food for all his fruit trees). It now has literally exploded with growth and covered our whole arbor. There are probably 75-100 bunches here.
The BIG Question: How to Protect Our Grapes From Birds or Critters?
You might be asking, isn’t this a little presumptive? What if the grapes will be fine? Well, from our experience growing apricots, strawberries, figs, and more, some bird or critter will inevitably attack. The next few photos are the different ways we have protected our fruit from insects and animals over the years:
I do want to note that having insects and animals in the garden is totally natural, and part of gardening organically. I don’t try and save 100% of everything.
Covering Grapes with Brown Paper Bags
I posed the question over on Instagram: what’s the easiest way to cover so many bunches of grapes? It was great to hear what others do. Large (wine-sized) organza bags were a logical option, but they seemed a little pricey to cover all the bunches of grapes. I thought we had 50-75 bunches, but it is looking like more than that!
I really liked brown paper bags, but I didn’t want to staple them. Funny fact, staples bother me. Ever since Sam and I became DIYers around the house I discovered that a lot of things, like carpet, were held down with insanely strong staples that were a pain to remove. Now, whenever we do a project, I always say ‘I want bare minimum staples please!’ It really annoys him. So, personal preference, no staples. Also, I can’t compost staples and I’m thinking I want to just compost the bags. Don’t forget to check out the Compost 101 section of the blog.
The plan? Brown paper bags held closed with clothespins. I already have clothespins in my garden shed for my DIY Fabric Row Covers too! What do you think?
Notes on Urban Gardening & Growing Fruit
As a general rule of thumb, I use organza bags for fruit when the trees are young and there isn’t as much fruit to cover. If the trees are really large (like our apricot) I aim for a larger covering like this black shade mesh or fabric row cover. In the past I’ve read horror stories about birds (and even squirrels) getting caught in bird netting, so I’ve just avoided using it in the garden. Despite how annoying birds can be when they destroy my plants, we still care about them and want them to feel comfortable here. One thing our bird population loves is sunflowers. I grow them consistently all Summer and just leave them to go to seed and feed the birds.
A question I get a lot is: what fruit trees do you grow? Certain varieties definitely prefer certain climates. To get you started, I have a checklist of Things to Consider When Buying a Fruit Tree but I have never written all the fruits and names/varieties we have in our garden. Would that be something you’d be interested in eventually? I know the number of fruit trees is over 25……yikes!
My go-to books for preserving my harvests
There’s a program called the UCCE Master Food Preservers of Orange County. In fact, if you do some online research, many counties have this extension program available. They are a fantastic resource for canning and food safety if you want to know a dependable FREE resource to get started.
Other than the Master Food Preservers, the two books I really rely on to process my homegrown fruit are: America’s Test Kitchen-Foolproof Preserving: A Guide to Small Batch Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Condiments & More and the Ball Guide to Home Preserving. I like the Test Kitchen book because it is focuses on “small batch” recipes that are more tailored to the amount of food I grow in my backyard. The Ball book is great for their unique and fun recipes and canning information. I highly recommend checking out these books to read about canning safety and to have access to wonderful recipes. You can also find the canning supplies that I have HERE.
How is your fruit faring in the garden? I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how the grapes do this season!